Monday, October 12, 2009

Euroscepticism and liberty

Published in French in Un Monde Libre on October 19th.

.The EU leadership is not amused and is showing signs of impatience. Czech President Vaclav Klaus is not toeing the yes-line and announced that he wanted an opt-out on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a move which in turn could unravel re-negotiation requests from other member states. What is wrong with this? The problem is that the EU leadership demands an unconditional ratification even though by granting "guarantees" (July 2009 European Council conclusions) to Ireland, it opened the pandora box of a ratification a "geometrie variable". The problem is that the Union is neither comfortable with democracy nor with dissent.

Citizens are expected to fall in. In France, our political class chose to “consult itself” so to speak (ratification through parliament) rather than risk a public consultation and another rebuke (2005 no-vote on EU Constitution). With the financial crisis and economic downturn of the past year, EU leaders and eurocrats were anxious for good news. After the Irish yes-vote, nothing appears to be dampering their eagerness to have the treaty in force by the end of the year.

“There is no pressure as such” said the president of the EU Parliament Jerky Buzek “all discussions are taking place in a democratic context”. So the yes-camp makes it known that delay from the Czech Republic is not acceptable, diplomatically lambasting its president for pulling an “unfair” rabbit. Apparently the “Lisbon-ned” Union urgently needs to anoint a guide (President) to lead its blighted citizens. If you don’t understand what’s democratic and transparent about that, please try again. The correct answer is “yes” naturally this new phase of supranational governance requires a supreme leader but also new diplomatic staff, more bureaucrats, more budget for more common policies.... When member states are urged to reduce expenditures and downsize their administrations, the EU is preparing to inflate its own.

What kind of a democracy is yes-democracy? A growing number of citizens are no longer amused. Could Lisbon be a “treaty too far” as British academic William Horsley argues? He warns that its implementation will come as a shock to British people. After Westminster's expenses scandal, coping with a new rabbit from the EU hat will prove difficult. Across Europe, disillusionment with EU politics runs high. Politicians - not surprisingly - have failed to prepare electorates for what’s afoot, namely a system of collective decision-making with extensive new powers, and not as they claimed a “mere amendment" to the Nice Treaty currently in force. "Stream-lining" is the buzz word. But what we are talking about is the creation of a Europe-wide government and that means a superstate complete with legal personality.

Yes to British euroscepticism!
President Klaus’ stance for freedom is a beacon of hope, and so is the prospect of the return to power of the Conservative Party in the UK on the other side of the Channel. A healthy dose of British euroscepticism could be the light at the end of this illiberal tunnel... David Cameron’s speech at the party conference last week has hit the nail though his message of “taking on big government and the culture of irresponsibility” has probably not gone down well in the corridors of power in Brussels. Should he stand firm on his principled platform (and the referendum), a Conservative-led UK could act as a counterbalance to a more centralised and powerful EU. Let us see if outbursts of “consequences” by outspoken European leaders will impress or scare the British electorate. In the chess game of Euro-politics, the Lisbon camp is planning its next move, probably the offering of a sweetener. To neuter the rebellious islanders, “Let them have Blair!". Call it a socialist icing on the EU supercake, eurocitizens will need to digest. Citizens are mobilising against him ("Stop Blair" petition campaign) but he has already the support of powerful states.

The wind of liberty coming from Prague.
The fact is that the European project has always been an elite-driven ideal for which democratic legitimacy (direct elections) was never a priority. From its onset, it was influenced by inter alia federalist intellectuals like Jean Monnet - a statist - and Altiero Spinelli - a communist - who believed that peace in Europe would be achieved with the establishment of a superstate. That this ideal would in 2009 turn into reality without public support and legitimacy is fitting. It is no longer possible to question the integration model which in effect has become a dogma.

The plot is thickening but for us the French, the "ever-closer union" dies are cast. As Europe pompously celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is both ironic and fascinating that, in the immediate future, hope for a freer EU should come from the East. Whatever the outcome, President Klaus dares say "no" and in our brave new world of EU political correctness, it takes courage.

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